I can already say that Humankind by Rutger Bregman is a brilliant book, and I’m very grateful to have been gifted it. Of course, I can’t say until the very end whether or not I agree with his conclusions, but it’s already got potential to be a life-changing book for me. And for someone who sometimes wishes they’d studied History at university rather than languages, Bregman’s reaching back to Neanderthal times is endlessly fascinating and revealing, because there is still so much to learn. Parts of that exploration take me back to being a little kid at school in Germany. Most importantly, and I think this will apply regardless of of Bregman’s conclusions will be, regardless of whether or not I agree with his conclusions, this book is doing what all history does – it contextualises us, me, the Ukraine war, all wars. I know I write about this a lot, but putting our lives into context is really important, actually essential for living. And not just that – we often forget that we are history, that what we do, however unimportant it might seem at the time, is creating a context for future generations, creating the shape of a world for the future. That’s why we should be concerned with what we’re doing to the planet and to our fellow humans.
Last night I scribbled a note to myself that I was seriously becoming too obsessed with Aggie. She tends to wander through my head at the most inconvenient times, and I found myself jotting down some dialogue last night, which isn’t really allowed under the rules I’ve set myself for these 500+ word bursts of her story every morning. And The Mortality Code needs to be written, because that’s the “serious” piece of work in hand right now. But the weird thing is that the characters from these two separate books are actually alive side by side in my head, in two separate parts of my brain, and not affecting or interacting with each other. I’ve never quite experienced anything like that. They may be competing with each other for time, but that’s different. Maybe I should start writing a third novel to see how that works out up there. Perhaps not.
When I first started writing prose fiction, I really struggled with dialogue, and so much of it read like a stilted and sluggish version of real life (well, not even real life, it was so far away from how people really talk), and reading it back to myself always felt really discouraging, especially as I didn’t know what to do about it. One of the problems possible was, in those early days, that I thought I shouldn’t be reading books in case I accidentally copied them, their style, their content. Madly enough, I only realised about 15 years ago that this was a ridiculous approach to take. It’s only by listening to other people’s voices that we find our own. I also have to admit that my dialogue now, with as few speech tags (he said, she said) as possible tends to divide my audience. I’ve had compliments about all the white space on my dialogue from at least as many people as from those who’ve said that those pages aren’t novel pages but pages from a screenplay. A divided audience isn’t a bad thing. For me, ultimately, my characters drive their stories through their dialogue. And it’s not fanciful, I think, to say that actually when you read what I write, you’re reading the voices of my characters, and not my voice at all.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 28